'Grey's Anatomy' Star Jessica Capshaw Opens Up About Sara Ramirez's Exit and Arizona's Future

The actress talks with THR about how Ramirez's departure from the Shondaland drama at the end of season 12 was different from previous 'Grey's' exits as well as her hopes for Arizona.
ABC/Richard Cartwright
Jessica Capshaw as Arizona Robbins on 'Grey's Anatomy'

Dr. Arizona Robbins is back in the Grey's Anatomy house.

Jessica Capshaw will return to the ABC medical drama Thursday, marking her first season 13 scene since Arizona was offscreen visiting New York and helping her daughter, Sofia, get settled with ex-wife Callie (Sara Ramirez) and girlfriend Penny (Samantha Sloyan), who both moved across the country.

Below, Capshaw talks with THR about Grey's Anatomy without Ramirez, who departed after season 12; saying farewell to "Calzona"; and if there's any hope left for the fan-favorite couple as the Shondaland door remains open to the Tony-winning actress. 

How has it been filming this season without Sara Ramirez?

She's such a tremendous actress. It's interesting because if you look at last season, we didn't work together that much. It's one of those things where I feel like in my heart, I can imagine in Shondaland that there's still a Callie and a Sofia and a Penny living in New York in some cute little apartment, and that part of Grey's is still fine. There wasn't a tragedy. There's something original about that. The people who have left, [the exits] haven't always been sad but they've been bittersweet because you have seen them coming. But not seeing this one coming afforded everyone to feel like the character is still somewhere; she's just not there now.

You didn't know last season that she was leaving when you filmed the season finale. Did you hear from her before or since she announced her departure? 

I didn't talk to her. It was a surprise. We all read her statement and it seemed like you could understand where she was coming from. It wasn't bittersweet or sad because it seemed very empowered, and it was a choice. She was moving on but in what seemed like a grateful way, which was nice. 

Had you known Sara wasn't returning, was there anything you would have liked to have done differently, creatively speaking? 

I don't know! We're still in the midst of telling these stories that involve Arizona, and Arizona is still at the hospital and living that life. I think the relationship between Callie and Arizona was so hard-won and so magical — from their courtship to their marriage, and the accident and things that came and children and divorce — they very much earned the spot that they were in at the end of last season. So for there to be this horrible court situation where neither one of them knew how to be there for each other and the results and in the end, with Arizona being able to say, "This isn't who we are and let's not be these people — and you need to take Sofia and do what you want to do." It felt like an ending. That now Arizona can be in this world and freed up to have new relationships and new beginnings and people can champion that.

Have you heard from her since the new season started?

No, I haven't.

Do you think there's still hope for a romantic reconciliation between Arizona and Callie?

I don't know. Certainly, things have progressed and moved on and we now are in a space where I would very much hope we have all the opportunity in the world to make great stories for all the people who loved those characters together. We wouldn't all feel like unless they were together, no one would be happy. That would be too sad. There's too much fun to be had.

With Callie in New York and everyone happy and settled there, how will we see Arizona start to put herself first this season?

In this interim period, there was so much of Arizona throwing herself into work. I keep joking but I think it's true: Arizona is one of the most board-certified surgeons at the hospital when you think about all the specialties she has gone through. (Laughs.) Now that she's newly divorced and is throwing herself back into that world, she'll be a little more sure-footed. There's real opportunity for fun and an energetic, excited, willing person. That is what I'm hoping for.

Arizona is getting a new love interest. What will her dating journey look like this season? I can't see it being fast and easy like Callie.

Or maybe it will be! Wouldn’t that be exciting? The beginnings of Callie and Arizona weren't steeped in some long, drawn-out or deep drama — it was fun and exciting and involved dancing. It was the light and excited beat music that played under all their scenes. I think it'd be great if that came back now. 

What have you heard about Arizona's new love interest? Is this someone in the medical field?

I don't know what the character will be, but I'm guessing and think it will be someone who has a great amount of confidence and excitement. I have a feeling it will be very nice for them to have that quid pro quo and lively exchange and banter. It would help if there was a heat to it. I hope it's fun, sexy and exciting. Why would you do it otherwise?!  

Arizona is Alex's mentor. How will she respond to what he's done?  

It's ripe for contradiction and conflict for her. There was empathy, camaraderie and compassion with her roommate, Andrew. At the same time, she has a deep relationship with Alex, as a mentor, friend and confidant. Ultimately, when she first comes back, she doesn't understand how bad it is for Andrew until she sees him. It's hard to reconcile that, and it's a little scary when someone you know so well does something so primal and unacceptable. There's got to be so many different things you feel at the same time. Arizona is very connected to the empathy she had for Andrew and him being new and not having his people in place yet. And getting the shit kicked out of him, it's awful.

DeLuca is Arizona's roommate. Will she get stuck in the middle at all between her two main people?

I don't know how all this will end up. By the end of Thursday's episode, you see from Alex that perhaps having Arizona come back is the last in a long chain of friends who have come and said, "You really messed this up and you did a horrible thing and you need to work your way back from it." At the end of this episode, he says he'll do whatever he can, and Arizona believes him. She will be there for him through that. 

Who will she lean on the most this season?

I'm hoping there will be another person for her to play off of as another option for camaraderie. Last year with the chief [James Pickens Jr.] and Arizona was hysterical and fun to play out. There's also the drama with April, and this year I've gotten to work more with Camilla Luddington, which has been fun.

What are you looking forward to seeing from Arizona this season? Sound off in the comments section below. Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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